Thursday, May 13, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell on running

Malcolm Gladwell said, "I'm only snobbish about running. Competitive runners disdain listening to music when they run; I want to at least give the impression I am listening only to my body."

I refuse to run with headphones for different reasons - it's my idea time. I get more ideas during a run than atany other time. The rhythm of my pace and breathing has a similar effect as zen meditation. It clears the mind. Oddly, this very active time for the body is a quiet time for the soul. And, by concentrating on nothing, my mind is quiet enough to notice when new ideas arrive. I would lose that if I ran with headphones, whether for music or news radio. I often don't notice how loud life is, that is, how many people and items of interest or vying for my attention constantly. Life is so noisy, until I run.

Thanks Google - Terrain view is now in the drop down menu

Apparently Google reads this blog, because the day after I raised a fuss on these pages (as well as a couple other forums) they added terrain view to a drop down menu on Google Maps. My operative theory was that since google has no formal customer feedback mechanism, they were probably monitoring blogs and forums for mentions of Google. It probably has no connection, but it seemed to work. Of course, this is likely one of those incidents where correlation does not equal causation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Google Maps - where is the terrain view?

Google, while a great (and free) product, I find it frustrating that they do not seek customer feedback when they implement changes. I use Google Maps terrain view all the time. Now it is gone. I would like to tell them how frustrating this is and that I will now seek out another browser that will allow me to see terrain. The satellite views are great, but the terrain view has altitude and contour lines that are necessaary for many of us in our jobs and hobbies. So, Goggle, if you're listening, change it back! Bring back the terrain view on Google Maps.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quote for the day with commentary.

If we were to do away with the varying religions, we would find ourselves united and enjoying one great faith and religion, abounding in brotherhood. - Kahlil Gibran

While I doubt this is objectively true, that this would simply happen given our contradictory, selfish nature, this is what Karen Armstong is getting at with her Charter of Compassion. What is known as the Golden Rule is the underlying principle of all the world's major religious traditions. According to the ancient tale, Rabbi Hillel (in a time shortly before Jesus of Nazareth) stated that the heart of the law was "Do not to others that which is hateful to you." the rest of the law - he said - was commentary.

Artists such as Kahlil Gibran and John Lennon offered this observation to the world in various forms, whether through story, poem, or song. They asserted that the underlying notion of compassion for others is what is important, not all the extraneous dogmas the religions of the world pile on to it. In the 19th Century, Lew Wallace, author of Ben-hur, wrote a very long novel, The Prince of India, in which the protaganist seeks to reconcile the major world religions by showing how they are all based on the same philosophy of compassion. So the idea has been around for at least a couple hundred years, probably longer. I believe it speaks to the very passionate core of human beings, the need to identify and sympathize with others, and this is why it is so resonant. But, again, we humans are essentially self-contradictory. While we evolved the capacity for great compassion and charity for those in our tribe, we also developed the ability to practice cruelty and aggression towards those we see as outsiders. So, these yin and yang forces will continue to pull and prod at us, ultimately foiling our attempts to raise compassion on to a throne above us all.

Embracing Doubt

I just happened to catch Laura Ingraham on the radio a few days ago as she was ridiculing President Obama for speaking about his faith in starkly religious terms at an Easter observance. He was never so forthcoming, she said, using the name of Christ and being very specific about the overtly Christian aspects of his faith. Ingraham suggested that it must be a ploy, a play to manipulate the faithful, and her proof? Well, didn't he talk about doubt once, when speaking on matters of faith? Didn't he mention that America included "non-believers" along with Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. in his inauguration speech?

Apparently, her implication is that non-believers are not real Americans, that we don't mention those people. Apparently, talking about grappling with doubt in one's spiritual life is a sure sign of cynicism and dishonesty. Apparently, believers must be completely certain, with no reservations, no room for hesitancy. But what would Ms. Ingraham say to Mother Teresa, whose journal writings illuminated a life filled with profound doubts about the existence and nature of God? Would she cast Teresa to the inquisitor's rack along with the President? Of course, that is the logical extension of Ingraham's take on faith - inhuman adherence to an austere standard with no tolerance for dissent or disagreement. In short, the Inquisition. But, then, anyone who listens to Ms. Ingraham will recognize that game already.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My President, Our President...and Confirmation Bias

A few posts ago, I noted the dangers of confirmation bias. President Obama seems to understand the dangers of succumbing to this phenomenon on a mass scale. As he said when he won the election, he is the president for all the people, not just black, or hispanic, or gay, or union, no, for everyone. And he shows what that means here, in his graduation speech to Michigan University, where he extols the students to keep themselves connected to different ideas than their own, and to people who believe differently than they do. Here is a highlight from the whole speech:

...if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York
Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If
you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the
Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be
changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for
effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy.

And so, too, is the practice of engaging in different experiences
with different kinds of people. I look out at this class and I realize for four
years at Michigan you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars,
professors and students. Don’t narrow that broad intellectual exposure just
because you’re leaving here. Instead, seek to expand it. If you grew up in a big
city, spend some time with somebody who grew up in a rural town. If you find
yourself only hanging around with people of your own race or ethnicity or
religion, include people in your circle who have different backgrounds and life
experiences. You’ll learn what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, and
in the process, you will help to make this democracy work.